We know that for electronic designers, deadlines are a rather unpleasant aspect of life. Although you can design a printed circuit board (PCB) internally, in most cases, most companies outsource the manufacturing process. You know that this over-reliance can lead to unexpected and uncontrollable delays. Can you imagine having to wait for days or even weeks on end to get an assembled PCB to realize that there was a small error? You can imagine how frustrating that can be. Then, to find out that, you will need to wait again for days or weeks to correct the error. But you do not have to worry as this is here that modern PCB printers are coming to your rescue.
Modern electronics have come a long way, with a technique developed about 500,000 years ago. We are not talking about the invention of silicon that goes back even further, a couple of billion years. We mean the creation of engraving, "a practice used to incise a design on a hard and flat surface by carefully cutting accurate grooves into it."
You can make printed circuit boards, or PCBs, with the help of various engraving techniques. These techniques include mechanical, chemical, or optical. Moreover, you can also use integrated circuits carefully engraved on individual silicon wafers.
Printing is an old invention (more than 2,000 years). Over the years, the page proved incredibly valuable in the electronics industry. That is because nowadays, PCB manufacturing heavily relies on it.
There has been an increase in the demand for electronics prototyping. That is because both startups and well-established organizations have rushed to meet the requirements of innovation.
♦ Develop your Prototypes
You may know that the conventional Process entails outsourcing your PCB prototyping to your supplier. That said, thanks to the invention of PCB printers, a majority of companies now have the chance to develop prototypes on their own. The PCB printers are capable of making PCBs without the need for engraving. They achieve this by squirting a particular type of ink called conductive ink on a flat and hard surface.
You will be glad to know that work is now in progress. Printers that can easily print electronic circuits rather than circuit boards are under development as well. This effort will help us print a simple four-bit microcontroller on cardboard directly. Creating smart clothes and intelligent packaging is the goal here.
Nowadays, you may wonder why you will ever need a four-bit processor, but keep in mind that in 1971, it was a great innovation, which held fighter planes safely in the air. It was the time when Intel had launched their famous 4004 four-bit powerhouses.
2、PCB Printer--PCB 3D Printer
PCB printers utilize dielectric and conductive inks to generate PCB from scratch, and a few of them can apply solder paste and application components. That is what makes them an excellent choice for a one-stop and hassle-free prototyping solution at your facility.
With the rise of 3D printers, there are endless possibilities for both rapid prototyping and home production. That is because you could quickly develop any model with the use of a 3D program. Then, you can print the design in 3D with ease.
That said, until now, not many people would have thought that it was possible to 3D print electronics for specific solutions (model). Not long ago, to design and develop a circuit board for your prototype, you needed to make it with a soldering iron. The other choice that you had was to order your short production run. That said, a lot of us could make it with a conventional iron as well as a laser printer.
♦PCB Printer--Create Models in your Home
Even using a conventional 3D printer, you may practically create any model in a simple 3D modeling program and then print the model out within the comfort and convenience of your home.
That said, 3D printing electronics has been out of reach. That's why only a handful of individuals and companies manufacture them.
If you do not know it already, you can install a high-quality diode laser on nearly any 3D printer. You can attach it in place of your printer's extruder or as an addition.
♦PCB Printer-- Diode Lasers
You should know that diode lasers, which are compact and small, have a comparatively low power output than most CO2 lasers on the market. That said, it is okay for our purposes.
While 3D printing has been used for various professional and hobbyist applications, it's only relatively recently that we've witnessed significant developments in the technology in electronics like PCBs.
At every stage of new product development, engineers and electronics designers need to get prototype boards ready for testing purposes.
Keep in mind that the current standard that involves subtractive manufacturing when it comes to PCBs is often a multi-stage process that is both material and labor-intensive and is, as a result, often outsourced.
During designing, development, and testing, this time spent waiting for intricate prototypes could add up to several weeks. Also, as you can imagine, that is hardly be called rapid prototyping.
And that is not all, because in case the prototype has any flaws or issues, it can take additional days or even weeks to redesign. It would help if you had all the fixes tested before your design can transition into production, which presents a business risk for timely product development.
♦PCB Printer--How PCB 3D printers can Help
However, PCB 3D printers bring together precision inkjet deposition printers, sophisticated software, and advanced nanochemistry, capable of satisfying the needs and requirements of rapid prototyping. Also, it can considerably cut down the time spent on prototyping from several weeks to hours. And the good news is that it is true even for the most intricate and complex PCBs.
As a result, the technology allows designers and engineers to develop and test their partial boards or even change their designs on the fly. Now that is amazing! As a result, you can build and test new prototypes on the very same day.
These printers can also help save considerable money and sometimes even allow you to design and create models, which would usually be quite tricky, time-consuming, or even impossible to design and produce. Alternatively, in some cases, it would be cost-prohibitive with the current manufacturing processes.
In the end, this can help in increasing the overall quality of your final product and even lead to the production of an entirely new and exciting world of electronics. The possibilities are many.
PCB 3D printers can provide high resolution, speed as well as conductivity. Besides, you can have more freedom and creativity to express what you imagine because of quicker prototype turnaround times and more regular iterations. Also, you can experiment with various designs and geometries, which can lead to better products and fewer errors.
3、PCB Laser Printer
There are many ways to make your very own PCB at home. In most cases, the best and lasting results are generated by using a process called photoresist. A suitable PCB covered with photosensitive paint is meticulously exposed through a mask to the UV light during this process.
After that, exposed paint is slowly washed away, and the uncovered copper is etched. PCB laser printer is used to import the PCB layout. It is introduced in the form of a bit-map image and is printed out in a manner, which resembles a paper laser printer.
It can cover the entire surface of this PCB. The Process goes line by line. The laser turns off and on to recreate the precise image pattern. You have to ensure the Process where the laser passes over your PCB is fast. It will help you get a decent resolution as well as a short printing time. Keep in mind that this will require a short switching time and a high bit rate of laser information.
♦PCB Printer--Simple Hardware
You will be glad to know that the hardware design of PCB laser printers is quite simple. There is one short rotational axis with a laser near the end of the arm and a second precise linear axis, which is slow. It progresses over the PCB, usually line by line. Keep in mind that both axes are often power through high-quality stepper motors.
On the other hand, the electronic side of this project is usually designed around the famous Raspberry Pi, which serves as the primary processing unit and a few auxiliary circuits. Pi can read your PCB layout in the form of a bit-map image (you can easily export it from most PCB design programs available on the market).
Note that after a couple of kinematic calculations, Pi will be able to develop the precise signal pattern for your laser. Keep in mind that you can transmit this pattern over your RPi's SPI. A single SPI data packet can control a single laser pass over your PCB. Then the output data is transferred directly to your laser driver. The SPI packet in the driver is decoded into a bitstream with a single standard D-type flip-flop. This signal from your flip-flop is then continuously applied to the voltage, which helps drive a laser.
In many cases, laser diodes are used in these printers; for example, a standard recording diode (Blu-Ray) is Sony SLD3234 125mW. You should bear in mind that at the current stage of development, these printers tend to achieve the desired resolution which most people are looking for, but the printouts have a small wave in them. However, do not worry as it is insignificant.
♦PCB Printer-- Downside
One of the main downsides of these printers is they lack speed. It usually takes about ten minutes for the printer to process 1cm over a PCB, which often results in thirty minutes of printing time, even in a small circuit. Keep in mind that the main factor that keeps these printers from attaining higher speeds is often the inertia in the arm.
4、PCB Printer--PCB Stencil Printer
Stencil printing is getting popular these days. It is the Process where solder paste is deposited on printed wiring boards (also known as PWBs) to establish electrical connections. The next stage, after printing, involves component placement. Keep in mind that the materials and equipment used at this stage are usually solder paste, stencil, and a printer.
♦PCB Printer-- What does the Process Involve?
It is worth noting that the stencil printing process involves one material, i.e., solder paste. It consists of solder flux and metal. This paste is essential as it acts as an adhesive during both solder reflow and component placement. Note that the tackiness of this paste allows the various components to stay firmly in place.
Also, it is worth noting that an active solder joint is often the one where your solder paste has thoroughly melted and flowed and nicely wetted the termination or lead on the pad and component on the board.
In simple terms, a fast printer intuitively means higher throughput. However, the overall speed depends on many different factors. These factors include the individual and specific cycle times for various steps that comprise the print cycle (such as board separation, stencil wiping frequency, and printing speed).
Keep in mind that the overall throughput speed of a stencil printer for each board printed should tie tightly to the specific capabilities of your line. Hence, there is little benefit if you have a faster printer or/and high-speed placement machine. This machinery will no help if a reflow oven regulates the line speed, usually near the end of this line. Generally, the reflow over has a fixed temperature and time profile, which is considerably slower.
This is why it is important to remember that line balancing and configuration, and therefore, line optimization as a whole is crucial. This way, you can realize the maximum benefit from your high-speed PCB printer. The printer is capable of handling large volume production.
5、PCB Printer Machine
You know that building hardware is challenging! Whenever you have to create an active circuit board for your electronics project, you often have no choice but to handle dangerous chemicals. On the other hand, you can send it to a fancy house. In this case, you have to wait for several weeks for your board to arrive.
♦PCB Printer--Benefits of PCB Printing Machines
It is where PCB printing machines come in. These machines can design and develop a prototype board with ease right from a workbench. Files in Gerber format go in, and an FR4 board comes out.
The magic, if you are wondering, happens right in the middle. These printing machines lay down a specific conductive ink. The Process develops the traces and insulating ink in the form of a mask between different layers.
Keep in mind that these boards do not replace mass-produced PCBs. They are a prototyping tool, which can help you get results faster.
With PCB printer machines, you can now quickly and efficiently test your ideas. You don't have to waste money, resources, or two to three weeks of your precious time!
PCB printers and machines are available in a variety of sizes and at different costs. Keep in mind that the capabilities and features of various printers tend to differ significantly as well. Note that highly accurate printers with a feature size of about 25um (minimum) could go as high as $100,000. On the other hand, lower specification models tend to cost under $5,000.
Remember that the justification needed to invest in a product largely depends on your scope of business. Also, keep in mind that PCB printers aren't an alternative for standard PCB manufacturing or assembly machines. This is because these units are far more superior and advanced regarding speed and cost. Hence, you can derive significant benefits when it comes to mass volume production.
That said, in case your business invests highly in new product development. Thus, it would help if you had a short turnaround for prototypes, and a PCB printer will be the best option for you. If you are seeking a solution that meets your needs, you can contact us.